Justin Gilbert is one of the better athletes in the draft, at any position. There are many areas in his game that you just can't coach. On the flip-side, there are some areas of refinement that he must improve on. In the NFL, technique>athleticism at corner. Before we get into Gilbert as a player, here's where he stacked up measureable wise at the combine compared to the rest of the players at his position.
|Measurable||Gilbert||Average CB at the Combine|
|Arm Length||33 1/8||31.51"|
|10 yard Split||N/A||1.53|
|40 Yard Dash||4.37||4.5|
|20 yard Short Shuttle||N/A||4.16|
|60 Yard Shuttle||N//A||11.43|
Without question Gilbert has the speed to run with anyone. That's evident when watching him, and the 4.37 he ran just confirms this. Last summer, Gilbert raced an incoming freshman who reportedly ran a 4.32, and beat him.
Another area that exposes Gilbert for his great athleticism. When the ball is in the air, Gilbert does a great job of closing.
You can also tell when Gilbert is returning kicks, that he has another gear.
When I think of ball skills, it comes down to how the corner catches the ball, is disruptive at the catch point, and if he has strong hands to secure the interception or break up catches. Also, how the corner plays the ball in the air. In the NFL(especially in San Diego), defensive backs are terrible at getting their head around and finding the ball.
We know Gilbert is a great athlete, but he turns into a receiver when the ball is in the air, and that's what makes him special.
He's very good when he's asked to mirror the receiver, and turn and run with them. He does a great job of getting his head around and locating the ball, then finishing the play.
It's easier for me to focus on traits like this after watching the Chargers secondary a year ago, but I just can't overlook how he excels at this trait. Gilbert is a playmaker with the ball in the air.
This is an area where Gilbert struggled in 2012. He had lapses, and had a tendency to bite on double moves. He's done a good job of recognizing it as a weakness, and cleaning it up. I only saw him fall asleep once when viewing him this year.
The above GIF he gets caught staring into the backfield instead of reading his key, the tight end. These lapses were rare in 2013, he was much improved in this area.
This is understanding route concepts, passing players off in zone, seeing a 3 step drop and kowing a quick route is coming. The upper echelon corners have great instincts, and understand what routes are coming based on how tight of a split the receiver has, or route combinations in general.
In the below GIF, he's in zone coverage, passes off the slant route, and comes back to the flat route, just missing the interception.
Here he understands the receiver is outside of the numbers, so his routes are limited. He does a good job of getting back to his zone and making a play. Great play all around.
Such an impressive play, considering he has no help, and the down and distance. There were also times when Gilbert would bait the quarterback into throwing, and make a play on the ball.
Occasionally Oklahoma State will bring Gilbert on a corner blitz, and I've seen him make a tackle for loss, so he's capable.
That's where it stops.
This is far and away the worst trait for Gilbert. He doesn't seem to be very interested in tackling, at all. When he's being blocked, he doesn't put forth the effort you like to see as far as disengaging and making a play. Tackling is simply about effort and will, and to this point, it's pretty clear this area isn't high on Gilbert's priority list.
It also factors into his physciality. It's almost like he's playing not to get hurt, so he won't even mix it up at the line. Many have been clamoring for Gilbert to use his frame to his advantage, and be more physical, but that's just not his game.
Change of Direction/Feet
Gilbert is such a good athlete that he can get away with his feet not being underneath him all the time, specifically in his back pedal, his feet get a little wide. His interception versus Iowa State was a great example of what I'm talking about.
His athleticism allows him to be much more fluid than most. Gilbert has no problem flipping his hips and changing directions, whether turning turning and running deep, on out breaking routes, like the above GIF, or slant routes, like the below GIF.
The problem with Gilbert is there are way too many extra steps out of his breaks. This is what's keeping him from being a top tier guy, not that he can't get their, but he's not there yet. Below is the best example.
Notice how there isn't the choppy steps that you look for. This is another area of concern. This is where he needs to refine his technique, and not rely so much on his natural ability.
|Multiple Pro Bowl Player, Top 10||8.5 – 9.0|
|Highly Productive Starter, 1st Round||8.0 – 8.4|
|Very Good Starter, Early 2nd Round||7.8 – 7.9|
|Reliable Starter, 2nd Round||7.5 – 7.7|
|Potential Starter in Year 2, 3rd Round||7.0 – 7.4|
|Backup/Spot Starter, 4th Round||6.5 – 6.9|
|Productive Backup, 5th Round||6.0 – 6.4|
|Very Good Backup/STs, 6th Round||5.5 – 5.9|
|Quality Backup/Good STs, 7th Round||5.0 – 5.4|
|Backup/STs/Project Player, 7th Round||4.5 – 4.9|
|Priority Free Agent w/ Limitations||4.0 – 4.4|
|Change of direction/Feet||3||2.7|
Gilbert grades out to an 8.06, making him a late 1st rounder. Guys who can run like he can at his size, with his natural cover ability, don't last long in the draft. San Diego would be lucky to see him fall to the 25th pick. He will have refine his footwork, and play with more aggression at the next level.
How He Fits as a Charger
Gilbert is a guy that can develop into a #1 corner, San Diego doesn't have that on the roster. He has the versatility to play in different schemes, and will excel when asked to play press and mirror receivers. As far as being asked to stop the run, Gilbert wouldn't fit at all. He's closer to Derek Cox in that regard. But the his coverage ability would give the Chargers something they've been missing for some time now.